The Jewelry Market: Where All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Read on to find out more about the booming secondary market for jewelry, and how to invest wisely.

Christie's and Sotheby's auction house appraiser David Warren (R) examines diamond jewellery seized by the Philippine government from former first lady Imelda Marcos, at the Central Bank headquarters in Manila on November 24, 2015. Philippine authorities on November 24 showcased a dazzling collection of jewels seized from the family of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos appraised in preparation for a possible auction. The long-hidden collection, seized in three batches after Marcos was overthrown in 1986, also provides a stark look at how the Marcos family enriched itself while the nation sank deeper into poverty. AFP PHOTO / NOEL CELIS / AFP / NOEL CELIS (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Christie's and Sotheby's auction house appraiser David Warren (R) examines diamond jewellery seized by the Philippine government. AFP PHOTO / NOEL CELIS / AFP / NOEL CELIS (Photo credit should read NOEL CELIS/AFP/Getty Images)

The jewelry industry is possibly the only market with more fakes, frauds, and freewheeling characters than the art world. Although uncut gems have been making headlines recently, there’s much more to this fascinating collecting category than the raw beauty of one lucky opal. Read on to find out more about the booming secondary market for jewelry.

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

The jewelry and ultra-luxury goods secondary market often comes up in the context of the estate sales of the rich and famous—like the sale of Bunny Mellon’s jewelry which brought in $45 million at Sotheby’s, or Elizabeth Taylor’s which raked in a whopping $115.9 million at Christie’s—or for items with especially enticing provenances, like Paul Newman’s personal wristwatch, which sold for $17.7 million at Phillips in 2018.
But jewelry, like fine art, is its own investment class. It’s proven to be an efficient method of maintaining portable capital during times of war or natural disasters, and it’s certainly a more movable asset than, say, a canvas by Picasso. And as it turns out, jewelry is also a much bigger market than fine art: it’s predicted that total global jewelry sales will surpass $250 billion this year, making the art market’s $67 billion look pretty modest in comparison.

A model poses with a Diamond Tiara, ‘Hubner’, circa 1912 at Sotheby’s auction house in London on October 19, 2018. Photo courtesy of DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images.

BRAND IS EVERYTHING

Brand names make the money move in jewelry sales. A signed piece with a serial number from a major house like Cartier, Tiffany, or Bulgari will fetch hundreds of times more at auction than an equivalent piece made with the same materials, but with no known maker. In the art market, an artist’s death can often make values go up. By contrast, jewelry from companies that are still in operation perform better at auction than those from historic or discontinued brands.

For example, according to the Artnet Price Database, “an emerald single-stone ring” weighing 30.22 carats and set between two diamonds sold for nearly $50,000 at Bonhams London in September 2015. But “an important art deco emerald and diamond ring by Black, Starr & Frost” weighing in at 17.02 carats and also set between two diamonds sold for nearly $500,000 at Christie’s Geneva in November 2017. Despite the Black, Starr & Frost ring being a mere cabochon rather than a cut gem, it went for ten times the price—likely because it was signed by a known maker from a still-operational house.

Sotheby’s head of International Watch Division Daryn Schnipper a Patek Philippe timepiece. Photo courtesy of FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images. 

 

TIME TO INVEST

If you’re looking to break into the secondary market for jewelry, watches may be your best bet. The watch market alone is projected to exceed $50 billion in sales over the next two years—almost as much as the art market in its entirety. Pieces by Patek Phillippe, Rolex, and Cartier in particular have achieved record prices in the last five years, and as a whole, the Decorative Art Price Database records over 11,000 watch lots that sold for over $10,000 at auction. First-time buyers should look at smaller, regional auction houses to try to get their hands on a vintage model at a more affordable price—keep it for a few years, and it’s quite likely to increase in value.

It’s currently a sellers’ market: Patek Phillippe’s Nautilus model is still sold directly by the retailer for around $30,000, but on the secondary market, it can fetch as much as $122,000. Why? The waitlist to purchase a new one is eight years long! If your grandfather’s Rolex is collecting dust in your desk drawer, you may want to strike while the market is this hot.

To learn more, a custom Artnet Analytics Report will give you the information you need to drive your decisions with data—contact us to get started.


Follow artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.

Share